Calls to save Lowestoft fish market
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Lowestoft's age-old status as a fishing port is being swept away in the drive to promote new offshore energy businesses, it was claimed this week.
The town's last remaining fishermen and merchants insist Lowestoft still has a viable fishing industry – but say restrictions imposed by the harbour's owner Associated British Ports (ABP) are stifling future growth.
Earlier this month, energy giants SSE and RWE Innogy announced plans to make the port of Lowestoft the operations and maintenance base for the new Galloper wind farm.
The proposals will see the remainder of the fish market building – which is still home to three merchants – redeveloped and converted.
ABP is now in negotiation with two of the merchants, William Masterson and Sons and BFP Fish Selling Company, while a third, L G Roberts, will be relocating to another premises in the port within a few weeks.
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BFP's director June Mummery has vowed to stay on the site, arguing that there is enough room for the fish market and the wind farm companies to exist side by side. She is backed by local fishermen, who say ABP is trying to kill off their industry by charging high fees to moor at Hamilton Dock.
However, ABP says the fishing industry has declined and the port now needs to seek new sources of income.
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Mrs Mummery called a meeting at BFP last week to discuss the future of the fish market. It was attended by more than 20 people including local fishermen and merchants, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate Bob Blizzard, Colin Gooding, of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and UKIP county councillors Bill Mountford, Derek Hackett and Bert Poole. Mrs Mummery told the meeting that about 250 fishermen regularly sold their catches at BFP's 'shout auction' and about 150 of those were from the local area.
She said she hoped to negotiate with SSE and RWE to try to find a way for the companies and fish market to exist side by side.
Mr Blizzard pledged his support to BFP and said ABP was 'waging a war of attrition' against the fishing industry. He agreed to investigate the terms of a European grant, which was used to develop the fish market in 1987 and might restrict redevelopment of the site.
He stressed he welcomed the wind farm companies' investment but said there were acres of land with water frontage around Lowestoft and it was not necessary to push the fishing industry out.
Lowestoft fish market is the only Defra-designated port in East Anglia and the only place in the region that fishermen can officially 'land' their fish. Boat owners from Southwold, Great Yarmouth and further afield bring their fish and shellfish by road to be sold at BFP's shout auction, which is monitored by the MMO.
Several would prefer to land at Hamilton Dock but say the high charges make that too expensive.
ABP currently charges fishermen with a long-established mooring at Hamilton Dock £490 per quarter. But these are mostly older skippers nearing retirement.
New boats are not offered the quarterly fee and are charged £52.31 every time they enter the harbour. They can stay a maximum of three days before being charged a further £52.31 for a further week in port.
Southwold has privately-owned landing stages as well as moorings owned by Waveney District Council. The council charges an annual clearance fee of £42.50 for boats up to 20m, and mooring fees of £371. However, there is currently a waiting list for moorings.
Businessman Paul Lines owns three fishing boats and eight vessels that serve the wind farms. He lands his catch at Gorleston and drives to BFP to sell it.
He said his son Charles, 20, would like his own boat in Lowestoft but it was too expensive, and he felt ABP was actively trying to discourage fishermen from using Hamilton Dock.
'If you are not already in Lowestoft, you are not coming,' he said. 'The costs are too restrictive.'
Roger Klyne, 74, has recently spent £1.2m on two 14m trawlers, Radiance and Nicola Anne.
He worked as a Lowestoft fisherman in his youth and went on to become a successful businessman, owning SaxonAir at Norwich Airport after selling his company Klyne Tugs five years ago for £54m.
He said: 'Lowestoft is absolutely viable and I might be able to prove it with these boats. It is extremely difficult because, as far as I can see, all they want to do is close the fish market down completely.'
Mr Klyne said it was vital that fishing boats were based in the outer harbour, as they would be restricted by the opening times of the Bascule bridge if they went further up Lake Lothing. He added: 'It will be a disaster if the fish market closed. If we don't have the fish merchants there to back us, where on earth do we go.'
ABP spokesman Roger Mr Arundale said the development of Galloper and ongoing operation and maintenance of the Greater Gabbard wind farm would create 200 long-term, quality jobs in Lowestoft, with additional employment in the construction phase and supporting organisations.
However, there was no concerted attempt to drive out the fishing industry which, in his view, no longer needed a quayside location to do its business.
'It is our belief that, with some imagination and flexibility, this move does not need to result in any loss of jobs within the fishing industry,' he said.